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Nevada Could Limit Water for Residents Who Use Too Much

Assembly Bill 220 would allow the Southern Nevada Water Authority to limit residential water usage if the Colorado River is too low.

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Lake Mead and Lake Powell, two reservoirs that are filled with the Colorado River, have been facing historic drops in water level.
Lake Mead and Lake Powell, two reservoirs that are filled with the Colorado River, have been facing historic drops in water level.
Image: John Locher (AP)

After already having their pool sizes reduced in Las Vegas, Nevada residents may be facing some new water rules: getting their taps turned off if they use too much water. A provision in a new bill introduced in the state Assembly last month would allow the Southern Nevada Water Authority to limit how much water its customers in the Las Vegas metropolitan area can use in the event of the federal government deems the Colorado River too low.

Assembly Bill 220, sponsored by Democrat Assemblyman Howard Watts, dictates that residents will only be able to use 0.5 acre-feet of water if there’s an official water shortage declared for the Colorado River. The Colorado River is Las Vegas’ primary water source and 90% of southern Nevada’s water comes from the river, according to the Las Vegas Valley Water District.


“For the past 20 yers, our community has been implementing very progressive and comprehensive water conservation strategies,” said Bronson Mack, Outreach Manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, in a phone call with Gizmodo. “This is another tool in the toolbox if and when they need to be deployed.”

For reference, an acre-foot of water is the volume of water it would take to cover an acre (about the size of football field minus the end zones) in one foot of water, or about 326,000 gallons according to the Water Education Foundation. Las Vegas homes would only be able to consume half of that for an entire year under AB220, or approximately 163,000 gallons. The water agency told the AP that since their average users consume around 130,000 gallons per year, it would only be the water superusers who would feel the impacts of the law. Mack also told Gizmodo over the phone that 80% of single-family homes in the Southern Nevada area use less than a half acre-foot of water in a year.


The AP reported that the bill, if passed, would make Nevada the first state to give its water agency control over residential water use. The authority hasn’t provided details of how it would enforce the new potential limits, the wire service reported.

The Southern Nevada Water Authority already manages the Colorado River—it was also one of 30 agencies to sign a pledge to remove grass lawns from the western U.S.—and AB220 would take the Authority’s power a step further. Page 33 of the bill reads:

If the Federal Government declares a shortage on the Colorado River for the upcoming year, the Board of Directors may limit each single-family residence that uses the waters of the Colorado River distributed by the Southern Nevada Water Authority or a member agency of the Southern Nevada Water Authority to not more than 0.5 acre-feet of water for that upcoming year. Any limitation imposed by the Board of Directors may not go into effect before December 31 of the year before the year for which the shortage is declared.

“It’s a worst case scenario plan,” Watts told the AP. “It makes sure that we prioritize the must-haves for a home. Your drinking water, your basic health and safety needs.”

While the bill may read as government overstepping into the lives of citizens, the Colorado River’s future is a bleak one.


The Colorado River, which serves as the main water source for several cities in the American Southwest including Denver, Salt Lake City, Albuquerque, Los Angeles, and San Diego, is facing unprecedented water shortages. The river, which feeds the struggling Lake Mead and the nearly dried up Lake Powell reservoirs, was awarded the title of America’s Most Endangered River 2022 by conservation group American Rivers. The water level in the Colorado River is expected to continue dwindling, thanks to a one-two punch of overruse and climate change.

Correction March 16 1:10 p.m. EST: The headline of this article was updated to indicate that the provision in AB220 limits residential water use instead of shutting off residential water use, according to a phone call with Southern Nevada Water Authority’s Outreach Manager Bronson Mack.